The dilemma for a resource-intensive industry

Omar Mourad, Planning Manager, Nakheel's The World, talks about the challenges ahead for a construction industry that needs to save time.

COMMENT, Business

The construction industry is witnessing tremendous growth in the region. It constitutes a major segment of the global economy in which considerable amounts of money are spent to construct residential, commercial and industrial projects.

It is quite customary for construction projects to suffer from significant problems that impact the objectives of timely completion, within budget, and to the specified quality and safety standards. The consequences of these problems are intensified by many factors: inadequate project control, scope changes, lack of coordination and communications amongst the different parties, improper decisions, poor planning, and many other factors. However, inefficient resource management is yet another major factor that plays an essential role in this industry.

The construction industry is a 'resource-intensive' one and depends on deploying a large number of skilled and non-skilled manual labourers to execute the different construction activities. Many serious problems are associated with this resource-intensive nature of the industry. These include difficulty in ensuring steady productivity rates and quality levels - as they depend on an individual's skillset, which varies amongst laborers.

Also, difficulty in maintaining satisfactory safety records with a large number of manual labourers on site; reduced perseverance due to the excessive non-productive communications and actions among labourers in the surroundings and optimum daily distribution of the large number of labourers.

Also, labourers logistics, in-site movements and frequent changes in work assignments consume considerable amount of labourers' time. Resource scarcity and labourers' related problems could also significantly impact the industry and consume additional valuable time; and many other problems.

All of these problems increase schedule, cost and safety risks and reduce the efficiency of the resources. Many companies overcome the problem of time wastage by adding more labourers. This means that the problems associated with high resource-intensity are being overcome by increasing the resource intensity. Practically speaking, it is not unusual to face situations where more labourers are being added in excess to the originally planned labour force without observing considerable improvements in the progress of work. This is a dilemma in the industry.

Construction companies have a major concern of securing sufficient labour that ensures that they fulfill their contractual obligations and meet schedules. Whenever a progress hindrance situation is observed, adding more labourers to the site could be the first considered alternative to overcome such a situation.

The vision of the industry should look at 'resource management' instead of the currently most followed 'resource procurement' approach. Resource management considers the labourers as the key production elements of construction projects and its objectives include, in addition to securing the required number of labourers, minimising the impact of the problems associated with the resource-intensive nature of the industry, and maximising the efficiency of the already available resources.

Resource management should provide integrated solutions that cover several aspects, levels and parties in the industry. This requires adopting advanced approaches, improved techniques, enhanced work processes, and non-traditional managerial styles. In addition, the industry should rely more on IT solutions. Although several practical, technological, and organisational difficulties exist, it is not impossible to come up with such solutions. However, these solutions require collaborative efforts from the different parties of the industry which should consider investing more in efficient resource management.

The excessive time wastage of labourers would be minimised considerably if efficient resource management is adopted. Furthermore, the skills of the labourers could be improved to enhance their overall efficiency. We need to investigate the possibility of achieving a guaranteed saving of, at least, 48 minutes per labourer per working day. The 48 minutes are actually equivalent to 10% of the total labourers' working time, which means that a company of 10,000 labourers would save the time of 1,000 labourers and become able to make an extra annual turnover of about US $49 million. This target would reduce the average labourers' intensity within the construction industry by about 10%. Therefore, by achieving these 48 minutes we would make big improvements in the industry. Many direct and indirect benefits would be achieved.

To recognize the direct benefits, I refer to a recent study that estimated the total cost of projects in the GCC at US $2.4 trillion (AED 8.8 trillion). If the construction industry succeeds in achieving the proposed 48 minutes target then about $23 billion would be saved. The indirect benefits, however, are very important to the industry and include better chance for timely completion, fewer accidents, higher control of work, less claims, etc.

In conclusion, the very important question becomes: how can we achieve the 48 minutes target?

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